I’ve been very impressed for some time with the work going on over at BikePure. Their mission statement tells it all in two simple sentences:
“Bike Pure is an independent, global organization for fans, riders and the cycle trade who are opposed to doping to join together in a united stance for a new era of positive cycling.
Bike Pure will spearhead constructive, structured reform, to restore the integrity of cycle sport and create a nurturing environment for future champions to succeed.”
One of the founders of BikePure, Andy Layhe was in Australia recently for the World Championships in Geelong. I tried, via Twitter (he’s @BikePure) to arrange to interview him. Time was against us, but Andy has been generous enough to answer my questions by e-mail.
Up&Down: Before I get to the task at hand, and ask you some hopefully insightful questions about Bike-Pure, how did you enjoy Geelong? And what did you think of the racing over the week?
BikePure: We enjoyed Geelong very much and with Melbourne close by there’s such a huge following for the sport there. I was amazed at how many cyclists were on the roads, I managed to borrow a bike during my stay so it was good to get out. I enjoyed the racing and the whole build up to the event regarding which riders would be there in the end to fight it out for the medals. Although every race ended in a bunch sprint, the racing was excellent and the course testing. We really feel that the removal of riders’ race radios really adds to the structure of a race, forcing riders to use technical know how along with their physical ability.
It was an amazing week for us and the popularity of Bike Pure there really amazed me, it was great to see so many blue wristbands, not only on riders but on the fans, showing their support!
Up&Down: Other than an obvious love of the sport, and the desire to see it cleaned up, what was the catalyst, the tipping point that resulted in Bike-Pure being formed? What took it from a “third pint discussion” to reality?
BikePure: It was an idea my good friend Myles McCorry had for some time, so we worked together to initially set up a basic website. We are cyclists ourselves and beloved followers of the sport.
Bike Pure was simply born out of the frustration of seeing the reputation of the sport brought down over a prolonged period of time with numerous doping scandals. We were tired of being let down by so many riders testing positive and basically felt we had to construct a platform where other fans could also voice their concerns.
Add to this the pro riders who also wanted to send a message that they were opposed to doping and you have the foundation for Bike Pure. We have grown from there and thanks to the power of new media and the internet we’ve built up a considerable base of followers and supporters.
It’s down to those very supporters that Bike Pure is where it is today, and they send a strong message.
Up&Down: You’ve got some amazing riders already signed up including loads of Aussie talent. Do you approach riders, or is it up to them to find you?
BikePure: In the initial months of Bike Pure’s existence we did approach riders, firstly ones whom we personally knew. Although around a year ago we ceased this method, as we didn’t want to put undue pressure on riders to make the decision. We rather riders go of their way to join our organisation. We do still take on riders who are suggested from good ethical sources, coaches and contacts etc via the network of contacts we’ve built up, who we know sit well within our organisation.
Up&Down: If you are approaching them, has anyone refused to become part of Bike-Pure?
BikePure: We made it clear from the outset that a riders refusal to join Bike Pure isn’t a sign that he is doping. It’s a riders personal decision at the end of the day. The majority of riders do support anti-doping, but don’t want to ‘wave the anti-doping flag’ constantly – this is a decision we respect wholeheartedly.
I have had discussions about Bike Pure with top level riders who don’t form part of our organisation to get their reasons and feedback about our message. We take their sentiments on board as to how we can reach a broader group of riders and how we can refine Bike Pure. We’re constantly evolving and changing, but essentially our anti-doping message remains the same. Due to our organisation growing so quickly in such a short time, it has been a huge learning curve for us. We try to get a balance with the way we report anti-doping and doping stories through our media outlets, by reporting on the results of the riders who form part Bike Pure and ongoing positive tests that fall foul on the sport. Not everyone is a fan of Bike Pure, which we respect, but we’re doing something good for the sport instead of sitting idly by and this is reflected in the number of cycling fans and riders who support our efforts.
Up&Down: What’s the likelihood of seeing Pike-Pure logos on a top level pro team in the near future?
BikePure: It would be an honour to see a Bike Pure team in the future, a team that can compete at a high level. We’re not in a financial position to support such a project at present but with the right companies and sponsors on board I think it could be a very realistic conception in the future.
Up&Down: If you look back at things like the Willy Voet / Festina affair, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Operation Puerto and Landis’ recent allegations of the entire team, in the bus, stopping for an hour in an out of the way location for a group transfusion session, do you think we’ve moved away from the systematic, team based doping of “the bad old days”, or do you feel there are still teams where doing is the norm?
BikePure: It’s difficult to say, sometimes we’re very optimistic, then other times, if there are a string of positive tests or raids then we end up with more questions than answers. No one fully knows the extent, but the signs from the previous two Tour de France’s and other Grand Tours look promising.
We have fewer examples of complete teams leading the race like a train up mountainous roads which was so evident for many recent years. We speak to many people from different spectrums of the sport and the general consensus seems to be that there’ are lower levels of doping and that many riders have realised it’s not worth the risk anymore due to the implementation of the whereabouts rules, improved testing procedures and retrospective testing.
We still see a problem at the top end of the sport and we wish some riders would produce more physiological data and figures to alleviate any doubts that the fans may have in them. As we’ve always said since our inception, if you’ve nothing to hide – why hide?
Up&Down: What advice or support can Bike-Pure offer to the, say 26 or so year old pro cyclist, a couple of years into his career, who having discovered he’s perhaps not going to ever be the rouleur he thought he might have been, needs to make the decision to stay clean and not make the big time, or dope and keep his career going?
bikePure: It’s never a black and white decision for a rider to decide to dope. Riders don’t wake up one day and just decide they’ll do drugs, it’s a culmination of events over a prolonged period that seem to affect a riders decision, pressures from certain elements, maybe team staff, the hope and dreams of a higher salary if results improve.
It’s not until we look at all the arguments that determine a rider to dope that we’ll have a better understanding of how to tackle the problem. What makes Bike Pure’s intentions for a clean sport stronger is not knowing how many young riders who have phenomenal talent who have chosen not to dope have never been allowed to fulfil their maximum potential as athletes.
Up&Down: Doping in the pre EPO era certainly claimed victims, e.g.: Tommy Simpson, but it seems to have been seen as more benign than it is now. Riders might have been wired on “Belgian mix” but it was something they did on the day, as a boost. Now dopers have to be more systematic & scientific about what they do. Without suggesting that the old ways were by any means acceptable, do you think that what’s happening today is somehow viewed as worse?
BikePure: We’re clearly looking at two completely different eras, drugs and science have both evolved.
Doping has clearly been a problem within cycling for generations but we’re now able to test for more substances and technology has also moved on.
I think that with the introduction of performance enhancers such as EPO we’ve seen the bar rise with riders’ performances over the years. Some of the performances during what have been termed the ‘epo years’ were sometimes astounding.
Performance enhancers such as EPO have been so effective that we perhaps see them as worse, yes. Over the years people have basically become tired of all the doping controversy’s surrounding not only cycling but all sports. Fans are crying out for honest performances and this is a reflection of the problems we face.
Tommy Simpsons story is a tragic one and there are lessons to be learnt when doping ends in such terrible circumstances.
Up&Down: The current crop of DSs & team management mostly came up through the ranks of pro cycling during the EPO era. Without accusing anyone of this group of doping, do you think this ‘exposure’ of the current team management to doping in the past by makes it somehow more acceptable, within a team, to dope today?
BikePure: We believe that there has always been a systematic core of doping within the structure of cycling. Clearly not all teams and riders dope but there seems to be an element where, as you say, riders who were once cheats themselves are now employed within teams. It’s never ‘acceptable’ to dope, not by fans of the sport anyway but until we address these issues then we may not see change.
We really have to ask is there a place in the sport for those riders who once doped themselves? If so then it is important that those who previously doped as riders address their past discrepancies, admit their errors to somehow put others at ease.
Up&Down: Do you feel the UCI is being fair to other riders who’ve been rubbed out in the past in the with the way they’re treating Contador? If you believe the the recent Velocast blog posts (they’re very clearly not UCI or Pat McQuaid fans) or the current Real Peleton podcast, it would seem there is one rule for the winners of multiple Grand tours and one for the rest of the bunch.
BikePure: It is imperative that the correct rules and procedures are applied to all riders, regardless of who they are. We have seen the rules contorted previously for certain riders and it’s certainly worrying. There have been many discussions relating to the credibility of major organisations such as the UCI and in this present time it’s essential that the rules are adhered to.
When you take a look at some of the doping cases you have to wonder if the sport is progressing or not. A fine example being the cases of Tom Zirbel in the USA and Danillo Di Luca in Italy. Zirbel tested positive for DHEA in December 2009. Zirbel vehemently denies having taken the substance knowingly, but he nevertheless voluntarily accepted a two year suspension, and immediately retired as a result of the findings. As a result of Zirbel’s appeal, it gained him a reduced sanction of only 3 months from 24 months to 21 months. On the other side of the Atlantic you have Danillo Di Luca. Di Luca tested positive twice for the banned blood booster erythropoietin (CERA) after finishing second in 2008 Giro. This wasn’t the first time Di Luca had been linked to doping, it was his third. Di Luca admitted that he doped, but after an anti-doping tribunal at the Italian Olympic Commitee (CONI), they reduced Di Luca’s two-year doping ban to only 15 months.
If we continue to have major discrepancies between individual cases then the sport won’t progress on an anti-doping level. We understand that both riders were sanctioned under different national anti-doping agencies but there is clearly a problem.
Up&Down: Putting aside the current furore surrounding Contador and the suspension that he might or might not get, do you feel that the penalties that exist today for doping are strong enough?
BikePure: Since our inception we have felt that harsher penalties will provide a stronger deterrent to riders. Riders are still doping and the two year sanction for riders is not seen as a major deterrent. Bike Pure feel that a graded sanctioning system for individual doping products which would include longer bans for riders using EPO and other blood boosting products would be an effective tool. The current system means that riders using over the counter cold remedies, perhaps ingested accidentally, suffer the same penalties as riders who intentionally go out of their way to blood dope. Bike Pure feel that four year bans, tougher sanctions, for more effective performance enhancers will act as a better deterrent in the long run, possibly coupled with financial penalties will be a major step forward.
It’s not only the riders who must pay the price for doping. A young rider doesn’t decide to dope on his own merit, there are outside factors which cold involve pressures from teams, coaches or staff etc. We feel strongly that doctors and team staff who are possibly involved in the doping process should also be hit hard. A cyclist’s career can last possibly 10 or 15 years at most but a team doctor’s career can span two or three generations of a riders. Doctors and team staff who are proven to be involved in the administration and supply of products should be banned from the sport indefinitely.
Up&Down: Once again, thank you very much for this opportunity.